By Gayla Cawley
The kid-friendly Sloper Express mini-train has pulled into the Rossini Program station at YMCA Camp Sloper.
The train’s name is a play on words using the camp’s name and the popular holiday movie, “The Polar Express.” Camp Director Mark Pooler said he got the idea when he was taking his family for a trip to the Meriden Mall over the winter.
The mall featured a new mini-train, designed to give kids a ride around a mini-train track. For a ride to accommodate all of his children, the trip would have cost $15 to $20 for about a five minute session. Pooler liked the idea of the train but wasn’t pleased with the price. He began to think about how a train would be able to serve the children at camp, without emptying their parents’ pockets.
After some brainstorming, he began to search online for different manufacturers. After some searching, where he found a price range of $15,000 to $30,000 for the train, he settled on Roundhouse Company because of their friendly sales atmosphere, optional design, and a median price of $15,000 to $20,000. The train was paid for out of the camp’s Improvement fees line of their annual budget.
Each year, parents are responsible for paying a $20 fee that goes toward camp improvement. The camp hosts about 1,500 kids over the summer so with the one-time fee, the camp has about $30,000 to work with toward its improvement. The train encompasses about two-thirds of that amount for 2013 and is the camp’s major expense. Pooler got his approval for the train in January and it arrived at camp in April. He said parents were pleased with the idea.
“Parents feel good about their kids having something new every year,” Pooler said.
The train will serve as one of the camp’s daily activities for three to nine-year-old children. The train ride across the 143 acre camp grounds will take about an hour, with scheduled stops included. Some of those stops will be at the Memorial Forest, where a scavenger hunt will take place, the Sloper Store and the West Coast to see what the older kids are up to. The activity is designed to improve the kids’ communication skills as they will talk to each other about certain topics brought up by the conductor, gives them an opportunity to see the entire camp and gives them something to look forward to as they will have access to different parts of the camp as they get older. More than anything, the train is meant to give the kids a chance to have fun and taking a relaxing break from their usual strenuous sporting activities.
The train will serve day campers and can be used for birthday parties and other special events. All of the conductors have had the proper training to drive the train as all Camp Sloper staff has about 30 hours of annual training to be able to run all of the scheduled activities.
Some unique design features of the train are meant to represent different aspects of the camp. Camp Sloper itself is named after Cornelius Sloper Neal who gave the YMCA access to his land for their camp grounds. His name is also used in Sloper Express. The No. 49 cart represents 1949, which was the year Camp Sloper opened.